Safety and OSHA News

OSHA area director: Inspection resources are strained

An OSHA area director recently made some candid comments regarding resources within the federal agency. He describes the current situation for inspectors this way: They’re “inundated.” 

The Journal-News in Cincinnati has produced a series of articles in the last couple of years, looking at workplace fatalities in Ohio and what federal OSHA is trying to do to prevent them.

The most recent articleOSHA resources to prevent deadly job accidents strained, says OSHA’s Ohio offices are now spending more time responding to accidents than focusing on prevention.

Cincinnati Area OSHA Director Bill Wilkerson lists a few reasons for this, including the new reporting requirements that went into effect Jan. 1 for companies.

Previously, employers had to report when there were three or more employees hospitalized. That’s now one worker. Also, companies are now required to report all amputations and losses of eyes.

That means area offices are getting more reports without additional staff. “We have been inundated,” Wilkerson told the Journal-News.

According to the Center for Effective Government, OSHA’s budget, adjusted for inflation, has declined from $554 million in 2004 to $529 million in 2014.

The area director says his office is keeping up, but it has put “a strain on our resources,” and it’s more difficult now for OSHA staffers to do thorough inspections.

What is the cost? Wilkerson says there are now fewer preventive-type inspections. OSHA is being more reactive than proactive.

‘This plant hasn’t been inspected since … ‘

People in charge of safety at companies know it’s entirely possible to go for years, if not decades, without seeing an OSHA inspector in your workplace.

Inspections aren’t random. They’re based on fatalities, hospitalizations, serious property damage, higher-than-average injury rates, employee complaints, and programs that target particular types of hazards and industries.

In other words, preventing injuries can go a long way toward making sure an OSHA inspector isn’t knocking on your door.

Yet, the general absence of OSHA inspectors is something that seems to come as a surprise to the general public and the news media.

When the West Fertilizer plant in Texas exploded, killing 15 people, the news media made a point of noting that the facility hadn’t been inspected by OSHA since the 1980s.

After an employee was killed at Center Ready Mix LLC in Middletown, OH, the Journal-News noted the plant hadn’t been inspected by OSHA in 13 years.

Of course, this isn’t unusual. The Center for Effective Government estimated that, based on current staffing, it would take OSHA 100 years or more to inspect every facility under its jurisdiction.

This situation has existed since OSHA’s launch more than 40 years ago. Recent studies and reporting are now bringing more attention to this.

Now, Wilkerson is saying the situation is getting worse. OSHA is being forced to become more reactive than ever. He notes that Ohio has seen an increase in workplace fatalities in recent years. In fact, occupational deaths have plateaued in recent years. Decreases are minimal.

So, at least at Wilkerson’s area office, life has become that business cliché of “doing more with less.”

What do you think? Is OSHA a victim of federal government budget cuts? Does the problem center on the agency’s priorities? Or do you think there is something else going on here? Let us know in the comments.

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  1. Worker sues Exxon Mobil and Brand Energy after scaffolding injury. Brand Energy is always being sued and should be investigated by OSHA and other govt. agencies for their behavior.

    • You post a link about a person who tripped over a scaffold board at a refinery, Why do you feel OSHA needs to investigate this?

  2. miltonmojo says:

    In federal budget terms a total of only $1/2 billion is peanuts. But the truly big joke in all this is what OSHA is doing with the money they do get – widespread whistleblower encouragement and “violation” enforcement? Doing studies about how worker’s comp money is used? (a topic not even on OSHA’s remit BTW) Making no headway with any significant rule updates/new rulemaking, but spending lots of energy and resources on “high visibility” (meaning headline grabbing and political) things like incident reporting and on-line posting of employer info? (Blame and shame – nice!!)
    It’s time to for OSHA to FOCUS, decide on what it’s core mission and goals truly are. (maybe actually trying to reduce work-related injuries and illnesses?) Doing “more with less” as the article says is obviously not working, so time to “skinny down” to what’s really important. For my money that should be getting out into the work places not to “inspect” or “enforce”, but to see and be seen and LEARN. Then to use what they find to find creative new ways to help employers figure out how to do things right, instead of coming up creative with new ways to simply hammer and shame them when they come up short.
    Playing bad cop (or any kind of cop) is definitely not the way, and OSHA has most certainly got stop being the self-appointed judge, jury, and executioner. Maybe it’s time they try being a partner instead.

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